State Sustainability Regulatory Activities

g20_state_reg_activitiesMany states have issued regulations that impose taxes or fees on products, mandate the usage of recycled contents in products, or banned products altogether. The purpose of these regulations, respectively, is to shift responsibility of product disposal to the manufacturer, promote a circular economy, and reduce environmental and human health impacts of unrecyclable or harmful wastes from production processes. These regulations can have a significant impact on printing operations and their customers, as many of the regulated materials are packaging, point of purchase displays, label, and textile related.

Extended Producer Responsibility

Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) laws are designed to shift the responsibility of recycling, reuse, or disposal of a product to the manufacturer of that product. Manufacturers of the product would be assessed a fee to finance the collection and disposal of the product at its end of life or take the product back. The idea is that this cost internalization will serve as an incentive for producers to make easily recyclable, durable, and non-toxic products or in the case of most print customers packaging, point of purchase displays, textiles, etc. Many EPR programs assess lower fees that contain recycled content to discourage using virgin materials in new products. Some legislation requires actions other than financing collection and processing—such as educating consumers on proper recycling or disposal practices.

Existing EPR Programs

g20_state_reg_EPR Though there are existing comprehensive framework-style EPR programs that encompass many products or all manufacturing in general within some countries, most programs function as product specific regulations. So far in the U.S., there are 118 EPR programs, covering 14 product areas across 33 states. The products include automobile batteries, electronics, mobile phones, paint, pesticide containers, carpet, mattresses, thermostats, pharmaceuticals and a few others.

There are many differences across these existing programs as to who “the creator of the product” is and what “responsibility” the creator will have—be it financial, physical, or otherwise. Answers to these variables can be controversial, which makes EPR programs tricky to establish and implement. However, increasing collection sites, improving recycling infrastructure, and educating consumers are great strategies to building upon a circular economy.

Costs to manufacturers depends on what product they are making, how recyclable it is, and what level of demand there is in the secondary market. For instance, televisions, printers, and computers have a high charge to the manufacturer because the secondary market is weak and, in some areas, non-existent.

Impact on the Printing Industry

Though none have passed yet, legislation implementing EPR regulations on packaging and printed paper have been introduced in Maine, Massachusetts, New York, Oregon, and California. Maine and California came the closest to passing legislation. As the pressure continues to take action to address unrecycled wastes, the system for manufacturer responsibility are all options we can expect to eventually be applied to packaging, labels, and potentially textile products.

Recycled Material Content Mandates

g20_state_reg_recycled_contentAll states in the US have legislative language on requiring state agencies to purchase products with a certain percentage of recycled material. States have also begun to introduce bills that will require manufacturers to incorporate a minimum percentage of recycled content into their products.

For instance, Washington state has a pending bill that will require beverage manufacturers to use at least 10 percent post-consumer plastic content in bottles starting in 2022, 25 percent starting in 2025 and 50 percent starting in 2030. California and Oregon have complex laws concerning recycled content of rigid plastic and glass containers. Wisconsin's statute, like some others, simply requires plastic containers to consist of a minimum of 10 percent recycled material.

Product Bans

g20_state_reg_banned-stampProduct or material bans stem from the issues of global pollution that has caused a dramatic increase in the amount of plastic material leaking into the ocean. Partially due to China’s Blue Sky Initiative, the waste collection and recycling system in the US was revealed to be inadequate in keeping waste out of the environment and repurposing it in a circular economic fashion. State and local governments are looking for a structural change to solve this problem at the source by banning the production of materials that are impossible to recycle or are hard-to-recycle.

The intended purpose of a product ban is to prevent materials from entering the waste stream that are harmful to the environment in their production process and as pollution. Bans have been imposed on thin plastic bags, food service packaging, polystyrene food containers, mercury containing products, and more.

States with Product Ban Regulations

See the links to resources below for some information about state-specific product bans. This, however, is by no means a complete list. Check your state’s government webpage for a complete list of what is banned in your state.

Challenges of Product Bans

Banning products that are so common in consumer’s everyday lives is a challenging feat. Many considerations must be taken into account such as how a product will be replaced with another, if these replacements will be compatible with the waste system or better for the environment, and how human behavior may have to be changed to use replacement products effectively.

Product Substitutions

A repercussion of product or material bans is that consumers still have a need for a product with similar functionality and will create the same or similar product out of a different material that may or may not be compatible with the waste management system, or better for the environment.

g20_state_reg_grocery-bagsThis innovation may lead to a great solution or a regrettable substitution. For example, bans on thin plastic bags has caused a shift to retail establishments providing thicker plastic bags so that their customers have a manner to take their products home. Measuring and comparing the total impacts of a product or material is not always straight forward. Each material has some environmental impact. Depending on which environmental issue a state prioritizes – litter, climate change, air toxins, marine debris, water consumption, etc. – it may be more in favor of different materials over the others.

Human Behavior

Sometimes, for a replacement product to be an effective solution, human habits must change. For example, reusable bags require a consumer to purchase them, remember to bring them to the store each time they go, wash them occasionally, and store them in a place where they will not lose them or litter.

If these rules are followed, reusable bags successfully replace single use bags and reduce the contribute to pollution. However, the ability to change human behavior is unpredictable. The success of a replacement item’s positive impact on pollution depends completely on a human behavior change.

PRINTING United Alliance’s Sustainability Issues and Trends resources provide practical information meant to allow printing operations to manage compliance and stay informed. For more information on State Regulatory Activity, or other Sustainability topics, email govtaffairs@sgia.org or call 888-385-3588.